Trying to create chilli heaven!

IMG_5005If there’s a downside to allotmenteering (or gardening for that matter) it’s how to get a break during the growing season. I suppose our allotment has the additional problem that all the water is turned off between late October and mid-March, and so we early starters need to make our own provision. Back at the Potwell Inn, we have just under fifty tender capsicum seedlings in the two propagators.  Normally I water them once a day with a fine spray of very dilute seaweed growth stimulator, but I thought I’d do an experiment to see if I could use capillary matting attached to a large water source.  In its first iteration I passed a wide strip of matting from a small bucket, through the ventilator of the propagator and under the matting inside. A rapid flood occurred because evidently too much water was flowing from the source.  So I wondered if the flow rate correlated with the width of the connecting strip, and I halved the width, but that also wicked too much water into the propagator.  Quick rumble of the little grey cells and so next I wondered if the amount of wicking that was submerged in the source bucket was the problem. The solution was to shorten the wick and attach it to a wine bottle cork with two drawing pins – as per photo – a very cheap cistern arrangement. That’s been running all day and it’s certainly slowed down the transfer of water to the propagator.  If that still proves too much I’ll halve the wick width once again and carry on with the cork cistern – total cost about a pound.  The next stage is to work out how large the cistern needs to be for us to have a week away. I should say that the lights are timer controlled to give 12 hours of fairly intense daylight at 24C.

IMG_3868Up at the allotment I spent a couple of hours yesterday reinstating the timed dripper system to water the seedlings in the greenhouse. It took some time last year, researching the available gadgets,  to make sure the one we bought would function at the very low pressure provided by the water butts. This battery operated model has been reliable for a whole season, and works on a reasonably small head of water.  Given that there’s no clean water available on the site for some weeks yet, I was so pleased when I rigged up a temporary tap from the water butts to find fresh clean rainwater – 1000 litres of it – flowing reliably through the system. Madame had taken a look at the rainwater in the trough but someone appeared to have washed a paintrush in it so it had a nasty blueish hue and was almost certainly contaminated with anti-fungal chemicals.

IMG_3876The other independent watering system we’ve used is soaker hose which we installed under the tomatoes last season and which worked very effectively over the first 2/3 of its length. That’s a point worth noticing, the hose we used was years old and had become kinked.  It would probably have worked under mains pressure, but trickle fed from a water butt wasn’t working at all.

I haven’t photographed the watering can but that became the mainstay of the watering regime during the hot weather last season.

None of the hoses – large or small – last forever, and under intense heat and sunlight most of the plastic hoses in the dripper and soaker hose systems had degraded and become stiff and liable to disconnect themselves.  I’d recommend changing them annually if you want complete reliability. Allotmenteering is incredibly rewarding but even the most dedicated of us need to factor in a degree of resilience against holidays or unanticipated absences, and that can’t safely be done at the last minute. With climate change well and truly in charge we really have no idea what climatic conditions we’re facing season by season.  Half of my time this winter has been spent mitigating potental excess rainfall and now I’m fully absorbed in planning for drought and heat. Ah well, life’s rich tapestry in the 21st century but you’d think there might be a bit more action at the top.  We’re not going to save the world with 1000 litres of water and a bit of clapped out soaker hose!

At last, the seaweed.

IMG_4681I think it was Samuel (Dr) Johnson who once said that every project bears within itself the possibility of failure.  If you wait until all possible objections have been met then you’ll never do whatever it is that’s in your mind. So piling a load of seaweed on to the asparagus bed could be construed as a bit risky were it not for the fact that we’ve seen it done at the Lost Gardens of Heligan without any obvious ill effects. Their bed, mind you, are about fifty times bigger than ours.

Today, having cut back this season’s growth and carefully hand weeded, I opened the very large sack of seaweed we brought back from North Wales and cautiously spread the first forkful on the bed. The smell was pretty awesome (to steal a phrase from WordPress) and there was a lively crew of sandhoppers and flies wondering how they’d managed to travel 220 miles from the beach they regarded as home; but it’s on now and I’m experiencing a strange feeling of satisfaction.  Whether the promised benefits of trace elements and soil conditioning along with a little salt and sand actually make a difference we shall see in six months time.  On the allotment the balance has now tilted in favour of next season. Over half has been cleared, manured and covered, and the depressing signs of wilting and decayed leaves have been consigned to the compost where a quite wonderful number of brandling have been busy breeding all summer.

Madame meanwhile was planting up the spring window boxes for the flat, and clearing out the greenhouse of pots and growbags.  The spent remains of the bags and pots have all gone back on to the beds, more as soil conditioner than food.  Two mysteries were also resolved during the morning. The reason that one of the water butts was never refilling from the greenhouse roof turned out to be no more complicated than the fact that I’d turned off the wrong tap; and the second mystery – why was there a section of the tomatoes that always needed watering in spite of the soaker hose , turned out to be no more complicated than a kink in the pipe. I solved both problems with one poorly aimed jab of the fork, when the water sprayed into my face.